The people who are elected to run the UK collectively hold a huge amount of power. Most of their work is done transparently, however transparency isn’t the same as accessibility. This is especially true with local authorities. Approximately 400 organisations with 22,000 elected people make decisions every day about everything from schools and social care to roads and travel, the environment to elections.
The scale and fragmentation of this information makes working with it hard. Most questions about local government can only be answered by researchers trawling through hundreds of websites of varying quality. The different layers of local government adds complexity, and longitudinal study means repeating the initial research from scratch. The cost of this work is prohibitive for many projects and organizations, and the result is that local government is far less scrutinised than it could be, simply because of information fragmentation.
Democracy Club is trying to solve this problem.
We plan to start by creating basic, foundational, lists for others to build on. We already have services listing local authorities, elections, polling stations and candidates that are used by millions of people. The next step is to build a single list of all elected representatives with an ultimate aim of facilitating scrutiny through increased transparency.
To achieve this goal, we want to partner with organisations who are trying to research, lobby or better understand the people who run local governments. This might be in the form of tracking gender make up over time, or understanding more about who holds particular roles within the council. It might be to help the public understand what their representatives are up to, or to help them resolve issues in their area.
The costs of running the system should not be met by charging for access, as this goes against the principles lowering the barriers to accessing this information. Rather than a traditional commercial model, we are trying to create a community of organisations that contribute to the running costs and product direction. This “data commons” will help everyone through a shared and open resource.
We are seeking grant funding in the short term, but the long term aim is that a coalition of organisations can share the costs, with Democracy Club acting as a delivery partner for them.
Democracy Club are building a coalition of organisations who are interested in this product if you are interested, please get in touch to discuss.
On the blog
Or, the Democracy Club summer show-and-tell.
We started this week asking “What would it take to make a list of all representatives in the UK?”.
To answer this question, or at least create more questions we gave ourselves a week’s “spike”. The idea was to get to the end of the week more informed and able to make some decisions about whether we wanted to do anything else on the project to create a list of all elected representatives in the UK.
Earlier this week we talked about finding links to lists of councillors and then scraping them all into a single place.
Now we have some data, how useful is it, and what could we do with it?
Are there are enough people who can write a little code and care enough to maintain one or more councillor scrapers?